Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Great Escape

“Anyone who has a child today should train him to be either a physicist or a ballet dancer. Then he'll escape.” - W. H. Auden

Lithograph, Pas de Quatre,  by A. E. Chalon, 1845
Carlotta Grisi (left), Marie Taglioni (center),
Lucille Grahn (right back), and Fanny Cerrito (right front)
 Theatre Museum (Victoria & Albert Museum)

I guess you could say the same idea applies to balletomanes (fans of ballet). We often feel as if we've escaped into a beautifully ethereal world when we sit in the audience of a ballet production.

It's sometimes miraculous and poignant the way things work out. The Graceful One is performing with her ballet company this weekend, something I feared I would miss while tending to my mother. Of course, I knew  my place would rightly be by my mother's side, but the mother in me also yearned to be with my daughter for this special performance.

This season's final production is a repertory program, and the Graceful One will be dancing in four of the pieces. They all have different style and feel, from Broadway to contemporary to classical, but one of them is just, well...more significant. It's a dream come true for a classical ballerina.

The Graceful One will perform in "Pas de Quatre" an historic ballet first performed in 1845. For the very first time, it presented on one stage the four greatest ballerinas of that era. Though there is much speculation about the contentious behavior between the four of them offstage, there is no doubt that the production, which debuted at His Majesty's Theatre in London, was a sensation which has survived the centuries. It is an honor to be cast in any ballet with only four characters, and a great honor to be cast as Marie Taglioni, who was considered to be the matriarch of the four "queens of ballet". The Graceful One will dance the role of Taglioni.

What begins as a lovely tableau of the four ballerinas, slow but effulgent in its beauty, becomes a subtle competition to show themselves to be equal, if not superior to, one another. They bow respectfully to one another, but there is an unspoken challenge with each bow...let's see if you can top that.

The emphasis in this ballet is not on modern day 'tricks' of showy power or speed, but on precision, perfect placement, and fast footwork. Each movement must end as precisely as it begins. Each balance must be secure. While the upper body is serene and delicate, the lower body is working overtime.   

With the distance between the Graceful One's city and Kansas City, and her responsibilty to attend the intense rehearsals before a major production, it was impossible for her to be with her grandmother during her last days. Instead, she left a beautiful voicemail message on my phone for her grandmother, telling her how much she loved her and missed her, and that her performances this weekend would be dedicated to her. I held the phone to my mother's ear as I played the voicemail for her. Though Mom was rarely responsive at that point, she opened her eyes wide and knew immediately who was speaking to her. After the message, she closed her eyes and smiled.

Yes, I'm thrilled to be escaping to the beautiful world of ballet for a few days. A dear friend from NYC will fly up to join us, and we'll celebrate with him as well. He lost his own mother just a few months ago, and so I know we will comfort one another as we both enjoy the escape.

Best of all, my mother, who was unable to see her dear granddaughter perform for the last few years, has escaped as well. I'm sure she'll have the best seat in the house as she watches the Graceful One perform the role of a lifetime.

Here is a bit of the second half of "Pas de Quatre" which was performed in 1968 by Lyudmila Kovaleva (Lucille Grahn), Gabriela Komleva (Carlotta Grisi), Yelena Yevteyeva (Fanny Cerrito) & Lyubov Galinskaya (Marie Taglioni). Music by Cesare Pugni, and Choreography by Anton Dolin after Jules Perrot. When you tire of watching the beautiful faces and upper bodies, watch the incredibly precise footwork. Enjoy.


  1. Gorgeous performance, but I would not recommend listening to Grateful Dead's Candyman over the original score as I just did.

  2. I can't think of anything better than a visit with your beautiful daughter - AND - you get to see her dance. Wow.

    Have a wonderful trip. I'm imagining no delays, no sitting around in airports, just smooth smooth travels. May it be so.

  3. Sounds like a beautiful weekend at a beautiful time in your life. I say this because you know that she, your mother, will be there. Enjoying watching her granddaughter perform and her daughter proudly watching with a heart filled with love. Bravo to the Graceful One! Safe travels!

  4. My toes are hurting just watching this! How serenely beautiful! Now I totally understand why "Joy" is the Graceful One's middle name. This is a "not to be missed" performance in Portland, for sure. The love and dedication you have expressed, pulls at my heartstrings, Jo. I'm sending prayers of strength, love and joy for your trip. Have fun. xoxo

  5. What a stunningly, beautiful post to and for your lovely Momsie and The graceful one. Once again I am moved deeply by your wonderful prose, art and supurb video with great music... So serene...

    Love you my dear friend! Have a wonderful happy trip....

  6. Grateful Dead + Pas de Quatre = LSD trip, man!

    Randall, thanks for the smile of the day!

  7. Oh, Reya, may it be so! We have CRAZY wind here today, and Portland is prediction SNOW. Anything could happen.

    Thanks for the good vibes. ♥

  8. Donna, thank you so really does feel as if I'm bringing my momsie along with me!

    Heart filled with love. Oh YEAH.

  9. Oh, Linda, you are so right! I'm afraid our toes would never make it for even a moment. Did you know that in the 1800's when this was first danced, "toe shoes" were hand made from wood? OUCH.

    Thank you so very much for the loving thoughts and prayers. You are so kind. ♥

  10. Thank you so much for everything, Vicki. You are always there for me with a kind word and a wish for my success. I love you so, dear friend.

  11. Hi Jo. Some of us have followed the unfolding story as FB friends and have ached as messages came from Andrea in the last days of your mom's natural transition to another scheme of art. We've checked regularly for updates and knew that there were at least three major dramas on stage, to include Andrea's aunt's own struggle, who as a physician found herself torn between the the Hippocratic oath and the benevolence of caring for mother and husband.

    Through it all you've managed to appear as a graceful dancer, on the tips of your own toes. And all of us have benefited by watching. It has hurt so good.

  12. Dubby, you flatter me. Any grace I have exhibited has come directly from the love I've felt from family and friends like you who continue to lift me up.

    Thank you so much.


Your visit makes my heart smile. Thank you.